‘Against Omniscience...’

Asis Ranjan Sengupta

On 17/4/16 last, Philosopher and Prof Arindam Chakravorty, of Hawai University, USA, delivered a worthy lecture on the topic of "Against Omniscience : Contemporary Hindu and Buddhist Atheism", as a part of the ‘Bimal Krishna Matilal Memorial Lecture’ arranged at the Vidyasagar Auditorium of Asiatic Society, in collaboration with the "Anustup" Magazine.

It won't be out of the context to remember that Late Prof Bimal Krishna Matilal who passed away 25 years back in cancer, prematurely, was the 'Spolding Professor of Philosophy' in Oxford University, a chair earlier held by India's respected one time President, Dr Sarvapalli Radhaknshnan. Prof Matilal, a profound Sanskrit Scholar, was always alive to argumentative spirit of India's Ancient Thinkers.

Incidentally, the date coincided with the Lecture by PM Modi in Kolkata, on the same day. And Modi, everyone knows, is the champion of RSS brand of 'Hindutwa' Nationalism, which is being sought to be imposed forcibly on the country. As a true disciple of late Prof Matilal, Prof Chakravorty, in his speech dwelt on the argumentative and challenging spirit of Indian Philosophy, which taught people not to accept anything as sacrosanct and absolute. Here is a brief impression of the contents of nearly one and a half hour long speech.
Search for the 'Truth' is the domain of Philosophy. But in this quest for the endless 'Search' it also reveals the insight into the contemporary reality, just as the study of History, helps one to understand the present. In Ancient Indian Philosophy, which is also known as 'Hindu Philosophy' there was always a respectful space for the dissident views and opinions. Totally Theist, Yoga Basistha Ramayana directs people not to go by illogical arguments, even if that comes from the mouth of 'swayam' Bramha. At a time when Beef eating or 'Mahisasur' worship, everything is under attack, Prof Chakravorty reminds the fanatics that all this is very much against the spirit of the Vedic Hinduism.

From the Rock Edicts of Samrat Asoka, one gets the idea of what should be the correct attitude to other faiths and doctrines. Asoka advocated the flourish of all Religions, one faith can not prosper unless it is respectful to others. Asoka also insisted on restraint of words or speech in condemning or admiring opposite doctrines.

In Ancient Indian Philosophical discourses, there was always a special space for 'Purba Paksha' (opposite opinion), before one started refuting point by point. The respectful place great Philosophers accorded to the opponents, was in fact, much more than mere 'tolerance'. The opposite view was not only required for debate only, it was considered essential for understanding that also, which was prerequisite for healthy argumentation. That was why the Buddhists studied 'Naya Shastra', Vedantics delved deep into the Buddhism, 'Naiyaiks ' found pleasure in the theories of 'Sankhya'. The discussion and knowledge of 'other' or dissent opinions was part and parcel of ancient Indian Philosophy.

It is evident that the most 'Theist' Philosophers made no hesitation in raising valid questions on the faith in the existence of the 'God'. Most eminent Vedic Scholars like Kumaril Bhaata, Mandan Misra, Bachaspati Misra ruthlessly attacked the unconditional acceptance and omniscience of God. One finds lengthy debates on the Omnipresence or Omniscience of God in ancient Philosophy, and that argumentative spirit is the essence of ancient Indian or Hindu philosophy.

Vol. 48, No. 46, May 22 - 28, 2016